Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Someone Is Bleeding by Richard Matheson (Lion Books 137) (1953)

One day, writer David Newton meets Peggy Lister on a deserted Los Angeles beach and is instantly smitten. However, Peggy seems somewhat remote and troubled - as well as being a self-confessed man-hater - and also appears to have something to hide. She reveals little to David about her past, except for snippets about her seemingly dysfunctional home life, but David is still keen enough to start dating her. When she invites him to a party, David is surprised to discover that the host is a former college acquaintance called Jim, who is now a successful lawyer and less than happy to see David as he too has designs on Peggy, even though he is still married.

After David and Peggy are attacked by an unseen assailant during one of their dates at an amusement park and her landlord - whom Peggy suspects of the seemingly sexually motivated assault on her - is found dead at her rooming house after being stabbed through the brain with an icepick, David finds himself embroiled in an ever-deepening mystery. It is a mystery that seemingly has its roots in Peggy's past, but who is the killer, is he or she also responsible for a further slaying, and will David become another victim?

Richard Matheson's debut novel, published when he was twenty-six years old, is a fast-paced noirish mystery, with strong elements of both the whodunit mystery novel and psychological drama. This novel is not perfect by any means as some of the characters, particularly the protagonist, present more as types than flesh and blood characters.

However, the narrative whips along at speed (possibly, a welcome legacy of the author's pulp magazine origins), particularly towards the end, which means that the flaws are more forgivable and less noticeable than they would be in a novel that features excessive narrative digressions or pace-killing exposition that impede the narrative flow. Some scenes, particularly a thrilling extended night-time chase towards the end, really stir the blood and the novel's final page wrap-up and chilling last line leave the reader enveloped by darkness rather than a sense of emerging into the light (just like the best 50s paperback originals).

Overall, this is an impressive first effort, and one whose implausibilities of plot and situation (for example, David seems to sober up remarkably quickly after an extended drinking binge that would put most people in an alcohol-induced coma) are less important than its swift storytelling and atmospheric evocations of a threatening world where nothing and no one are quite as they seem. Therefore, this is a recommended introduction to an author who improved with each novel and whose influence continues to be felt in genre literature to this day.

AFTERWORD: Your best bet to find a reasonably priced edition of this title would be to search for the 2005 Forge omnibus edition which includes the author's later novels Fury On Sunday and Ride The Nightmare. The reason for this steer is that the paperback original is a difficult book to find, and even more difficult to find in nice shape as it appears that many of what were already fragile copies were read and possibly passed around until they fell apart (and don't even think about trying to find the UK Banner edition as I've only seen one in the last twenty-five years and it was snatched from under my nose at a UK book fair as soon as my eyes lit upon it).

My edition cost me more than I would usually spend on a worn paperback, but its pedigree meant I had to have it when I saw it at one of Gary Lovisi's New York Paperback Expos several years ago. The back cover text is also interesting, as it is clear that Lion Books knew they had a special telent on their hands; so I am reproducing it here as it proved to be remarkably prescient. It reads "You are looking at a first novel. Never published before, Someone Is Bleeding represents the first full-length achievement of a brilliant new master of the macabre. We think this is an exciting book. We think Richard Matheson is an exciting discovery. We hope you agree.".

How right they were - and millions of readers down the years concurred!

So, if you haven't sampled the late Richard Matheson's wonderful work - much of it in the fantasy genre and which includes the better known (and, if truth be told, better novels) I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, A Stir Of Echoes and Bid Time Return (aka Somewhere In Time) as well as many others and some equally good SF, Horror and Western short stories - then get reading. I am sure you won't be disappointed once you crack open the covers of any books written by one of the most influential, gifted and often chilling genre authors of all time.

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